Interview with Robbie Gill, CEO YMCA Chesapeake
EEDC: We heard some great things about how the YMCA stepped up to help the community when the pandemic first hit. Tell us.
Robbie Gill: We closed our 11 facilities across the Eastern Shore of Maryland and one in Virginia on March 16th. The following week, we pivoted our resources to provide shelter care programming in Talbot County for children of parents who are critical staff: first responders, medical staff, etc. We’ve been running shelter care programming for kids ever since.
We also got very involved across the Eastern Shore in supporting other organizations in delivering meals to families that were food insecure or older adults who had limited access and opportunity to access food. We also did over 5,000 wellness calls to our members, especially those that were involved in our cancer survivor and Parkinson’s programs.
EEDC: How did the pandemic impact the Y?
Robbie Gill: The Y was closed from March 16th through June 20th. Through that period, we lost nearly 30% of our members, either through folks who put their membership on hold or terminated their membership. Twenty-five percent of the Y’s members are on financial assistance, and so for those individuals for whom money is already tight to go through what we went through, it just made it harder for them. So that definitely had an impact on us.
Financially, as a charity, the positive is that 70% of our members stayed active with their membership, which was tremendously helpful for us as an organization. We did apply for and receive Paycheck Protection Program funding, and that allowed us to keep our staff on payroll throughout the pandemic. So, while the Y has been impacted, the staff haven’t been as much up to this point, which has been a good thing.
EEDC: Are members returning since reopening?
Robbie Gill: Yes, we’ve seen a steady flow of members coming back. We’ve implemented very stringent protocols to make sure we were keeping our members as safe as possible. We screen anyone that enters the building, including staff, to make sure they’re not running a temperature, and if they have over a 100.4 temperature, they’re not allowed in the facility.
Since June 20th, we’ve scanned over 98,000 people, and we’ve turned only six people away. We also have had no confirmed cases of anyone in our facilities, including staff, who have been diagnosed with COVID.
EEDC: The Y, particularly on the Eastern Shore, is centered around the community. How do you keep that going, particularly in a socially distanced world?
Robbie Gill: You’re right, the Y is a place of community and social connection. It feels a little different right now because when you walk into a Y, there isn’t a place to congregate and spend time with people. All the furniture is gone at this point; you can’t grab a cup of coffee like you used to. The things that people do in the Y are important, but it’s the relationships and the connections that we have with one another that’s the most important. And I think that’s been, maybe, the biggest challenge of this whole COVID pandemic, we’ve lost our connection and opportunities to be around one other.
EEDC: Of course, you now have indoor programs and classes, as well as the online ones. The Y’s reach is enormous, isn’t it? What else is going on?
Robbie Gill: Well, we weren’t able to run camp this summer in our traditional format because of the guidelines set by the state. Usually, we would serve a thousand kids a day across all of our Ys. And I think we had about 80 a day, so less than a 10th of what we normally would serve.
However, we’re running our soccer program, and we have over 400 kids that are involved in that. As I mentioned, we’re still providing that shelter care, and with the school reopening, we kick off our program to support families and kids who will be doing online learning or the full-day program.
EEDC: Tell us more about the school programs.
Robbie Gill: Well, it’s still a hardship for a lot of families that their kids aren’t in school. If both parents work, how do you manage and take care of making sure your kid is at home, is getting the support they need to do the work they need to do and is also being fed and is safe? Traditionally, at the Y, we would only run an after school program, but we’re running a full-day program as well to be able to support families. So those who need we’re offering a place for their kids to go, have an opportunity to have fun, but also get support and tutoring with their learning and stay on track while we continue to, at this stage, do virtual online.
EEDC: How many children can you take, and what grade levels?
Robbie Gill: We’re taking kids from kindergarten through eighth grade. As for how many, it varies depending upon our specific sites. As many as 60 at some Ys and as few as zero at other.
EEDC: You don’t have to provide computers for this program, do you?
Robbie Gill: At certain age levels, those kids are receiving computers from the school. We do, at some of our facilities, have computers to support kids through those online learning needs. But, whatever we have to do to provide that support, the Y will do that.